Catriona Rowntree's "Wonder of Australia" journey began in Australia's Red Centre. It's the ultimate outback experience and is the spiritual heart of the continent some even believe it's the heart of the earth.
Uluru, Northern Territory
The local Anangu people are the custodians of the ancient landscape and take visitors in the footsteps of their ancestors around the base of Uluru. The huge, rounded, red sandstone monolith is 9.4km in circumference, rising to more than 340m above the plain. Rock art in the caves is wonderful evidence of enduring cultural traditions.
Catriona was privileged to join an Anangu Tour with Cassidy Uluru and Jimmy Dobson. Sunrise is the best time of day to enjoy the Uluru Walk. Bush skills, fire making, carving with a sharpened stone and how to hold and throw a spear are explained while a deep insight into the famous rock is given. It's so much more than just a rock, and that becomes obvious when you are near it. It oozes spirituality.
The walks are an easy 2km and take around four-and-a-half hours.
If you fancy travelling further afield, Uluru Motorcycle Tours custom-make Harley adventures. A special trip is 32km along a smooth road to Kata Tjuta. Meaning "many heads", Kata Tjuta is 36 rock domes which may have once been a single dome, much larger than Uluru.
Lord Howe Island, New South Wales
In a quantum leap, Catriona left the Red Centre for Lord Howe Island in the Pacific Ocean. The two-hour flight from Sydney or Brisbane introduces an amazing spectacle with two majestic peaks Mt Lidgbird and Mt Gower, the island's highest point a sheltered lagoon and more than 6km of beautiful beaches.
Lord Howe is a roughly crescent-shaped eroded remnant of a 6.9-million-year-old shield volcano. It is fringed by the world's most southern coral reef.
You can check it out from the comfort of a boat, but on a Marine Adventures trip you can dive into the clear waters and be well-rewarded. You can swim year round there is no stinger season amongst more than 100 types of coral and 500 species of fish. It's a snorkellers' paradise.
Lord Howe has one main road and the most popular form of transport is pedal power. Just 300 lucky people live there and if you go to the centre of town, chances are you will see most of them! It's the place for good coffee at Humpty Micks, to rent a surfboard or have a great meal.
Catriona's lasting impression of Lord Howe is that it's Mother Nature's version of a children's theme park. It's two-thirds covered in forest for exploring and lots of fun and enjoyment to be had.
The Tarkine, Tasmania
Tasmania's rugged Tarkine Wilderness is home to the largest single tract of rainforest and some of the oldest trees in the world. It's so remote you won't find it on maps.
On Tasmania's north-west coast and covering 447,000 hectares of old growth forest stretching from the Arthur River in the north to Pieman River in the south, it is breathtakingly beautiful. Its full impact can be appreciated from the air. Osborne Aviation Services have flights from Stanley and it's scenery all the way.
Deep in the world's most mountainous island is the old mining camp of Corinna. It lies on the banks of the Pieman River and is where you find Arcadia II taking passengers for the most tranquil journey they are ever likely to encounter. It's serene, peaceful, pristine, beautiful and the feeling stays with you for a long, long time.
Along the Pieman you will see species of ferns which have been growing along the banks for 65 million years. The rare and endangered orange-bellied parrot lives there, and the last known credible sighting of the Tasmanian tiger was in the region.
The Pieman River snakes through 108km of the Tarkine's densest rainforest. Conservationist Mark Davis from Tarkine Trails runs walking tours into the heart of the old growth forest. Mark says it would be most unusual if after one of his walks he doesn't hear "that was the most extraordinary experience of my life" from one of his clients. It's nature at is simplest and best, stretching back to the time of Gondwanaland, some 60 million years.
The Tarkine's wild coastline is beautiful and terrifying; it's referred to as the Edge of the World.
Australia's Red Centre, Lord Howe Island and Tasmania's Tarkine.
Anangu Waai half-day tours are $139 for adults and $93 for children.
Marine Adventures Lord Howe Island two-hour snorkel tours are $40 per person. All gear is included and wetsuits cost $5 to hire.
Tarkine Trails six-day tours start at $1749 per person. They include tented accommodation, meals, transport and guides.
Osborne Aviation Services 90-minute flights are $2570 for up to five passengers.
Pieman River four-hour cruises are $79 for adults and $34.50 for children.
Prices correct at October 1, 2009.
For further information
Anangu Waai Tours
Ph: (08) 8950 3030
Fax: (08) 8953 7493
Uluru Motorcycle Tours
Ph: (08) 8956 2019
Discover Eco Tours Australia
Ph: (08) 8956 2563
148 Davey Street
Ph: (03) 6223 5320
Osborne Aviation Services
Bass Highway & Main Road
Ph/Fax: (03) 6458 3434
Pieman River Cruises
Ph: (03) 6446 1170
Fax: (03) 6446 1180